Category Archives: Agriculture

EnviroWatch: Toxins, pests, fracking, nukes


First up, plastic perils from Environmental Health News:

Plastics chemical linked to changes in baby boys’ genitals

Boys exposed in the womb to high levels of a chemical found in vinyl products are born with slightly altered genital development, according to research published today.

The study of nearly 200 Swedish babies is the first to link the chemical di-isononyl phthalate (DiNP) to changes in the development of the human male reproductive tract.

Previous studies of baby boys in three countries found that a similar plastics chemical, DEHP, was associated with the same type of changes in their genitalia.

Less is known about the reproductive risks of DiNP, a chemical which scientists say may be replacing DEHP in many products such as vinyl toys, flooring and packaging. In mice, high levels block testosterone and alter testicular development.

“Our data suggest that this substitute phthalate may not be safer than the chemical it is replacing,” wrote the researchers, led by Carl-Gustaf Bornehag at Sweden’s Karlstad University, in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

From the Pump Handle, a needed challenge:

Lawsuits challenge EPA’s approval of new herbicide

Despite substantial public opposition and the “grave concerns” of about 50 members of Congress and significant unanswered questions about human and environmental health impacts, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved a new herbicide called Enlist Duo for use on genetically engineered corn and soybeans in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin. EPA, which says it has approved Enlist Duo “to manage the problem of resistant weeds” is now considering approving Enlist Duo for use in ten more states: Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska Oklahoma, Tennessee and North Dakota.

Immediately following the EPA announcement, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed suit in the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit to block the registration of the new weed killer. A week later, on October 22nd, a coalition of farmers and environmental organizations – the National Family Farm Coalition, Center for Food Safety, Environmental Working Group, Earthjustice, Pesticide Action Network North America, Beyond Pesticides and the Center for Biological Diversity – filed suit in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on behalf of their membership in the six Midwestern states  where the herbicide would be used. They are also seeking to block the EPA’s approval of Enlist Duo. Both lawsuits contend that the EPA failed to adequately assess the herbicide’s impacts on human health and wildlife, including imperiled monarch butterflies.

Manufactured by Dow AgroSciences, Enlist Duo combines glyphosate – the active ingredient in Roundup, the most commonly used herbicide in the US – with what’s called a choline salt of 2,4-D – the country’s third most widely used herbicide. Enlist Duo would be used on corn and soybean seeds genetically engineered to withstand this herbicide combo. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved these seeds last month. The aim of Enlist Duo is to tackle weeds that have become resistant to glyphosate that is now used on about 94 percent of the corn and about 89 percent of the soybeans planted in the US. The new seeds have been engineered to resist 2,4-D as well as glyphosate. A DowAgro Sciences press release calls the EPA’s approval of Enlist Duo, “a true victory for farmers” now grappling with glyphosate-resistant weeds across tens of millions of acres of American farmland.

From Global Times, trading one problem for another in China:

Eco-concerns as city tackles mosquitoes in dengue fight

“Cherish lives, including those of mosquitoes,” Wu Mingliang, chief engineer of Guangzhou Huicheng Pest Control Company, told the Global Times.

With 20 years of experience in controlling mosquito populations, Wu has bemoaned the overuse of pesticides for an outbreak of dengue fever in South China’s Guangdong Province in September.

A total of 41,827 dengue cases were reported in Guangdong as of Wednesday, an increase of around 20 times over the previous year. More than 80 percent of all cases were detected in Guangzhou, the provincial capital.

This year’s outbreak is believed to be the worst in two decades, the Xinhua News Agency reported on October 6. Six deaths were reported in Guangdong.

Dengue, also referred to as “breakbone fever” for its characteristic symptoms of severe joint and muscle pain, is a mosquito-borne disease.

The Independent covers a real alien invasion:

Deadly fungus killing British newts after spread from east Asia

The international trade in pet newts and salamanders has spread a deadly skin fungus from east Asia to Europe, posing a further threat to the endangered great-crested newt of Britain, scientists said.

A previously unknown fungus called Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans was first discovered last year and a survey of more than 5,000 amphibians across the world has revealed its global spread from its native Asia.

Scientists believe the pet trade has helped the fungus to spread from Thailand, Vietnam, China and Japan to Europe, where it has already caused the collapse of fire salamanders in the Netherlands.

From the Pacific Standard, inadvertent disclosure:

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

  • An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed

When billionaire Chris Cline’s company bought an option to mine a swath of northern Wisconsin in 2010, the company touted the project’s potential to bring up to 700 well-paid jobs to a hard-pressed part of the state.

But the Florida-based company wanted something in return for its estimated $1.5 billion investment—a change to Wisconsin law to speed up the iron mining permit process.

So, Cline officials courted state legislators and hired lobbyists. And, unbeknownst to Wisconsin voters and lawmakers, the company waged a more covert campaign, secretly funding a non-profit advocacy group that battered opponents of the legislation online and on the airwaves.

Fracking the air with Vice News:

Here’s What Fracking Is Doing To Air Quality

Dangerously high levels of known carcinogens around wells using the controversial technique of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, could pose serious health risks to nearby communities, according to a study published in Environmental Health.

“These aren’t just anecdotal stories about how people are being affected by this industry,” Ruth Breech, co-author of the report and program director at Global Community Monitoring (GCM), told Vice News. GCM trains people how to monitor environmental quality.

The study found that several chemicals, such as hydrogen sulfide, formaldehyde, and benzene, frequently exceeded federally recommended levels. In some cases, hydrogen sulfide samples were 90-66,000 times higher than recommended safety levels, while formaldehyde was 30-240 higher and benzene, an EPA classified carcinogen, 35-770,000 times higher.

Exposure to benzene increases the risk of leukemia, along with dangerous respiratory problems. Hydrogen sulfide can cause short and long term neurological, upper respiratory, and blood-related symptoms and formaldehyde is known to cause cancer.

More fracking questions from InsideClimate News:

Pennsylvania Congressman Launches Frack Waste Investigation as Concern Rises

The move follows a report by ICN and the Center for Public Integrity that documented how and why toxic oil and gas waste is virtually unregulated.

In a reflection of growing national concern about the disposal of oil and gas waste, a Pennsylvania congressman launched an investigation Wednesday into the way his state regulates the discarding of the unwanted, often toxic material.

Rep. Matthew Cartwright, a first-term Democrat from eastern Pennsylvania, wants to know more about how the contaminated leftovers from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, are regulated.

In an email exchange with InsideClimate News, Cartwright said “preliminary reports indicate there are big gaps in protections and oversight that the federal government might have to fill.”

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Asahi Shimbun:

TEPCO to postpone nuclear fuel removal at Fukushima No. 1 reactor

A series of delays will push back by years the start of operations to remove spent and melted nuclear fuel from the No. 1 reactor building at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, sources said.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the central government were expected to announce the new schedule at an Oct. 30 meeting of the team in charge of handling the decommissioning process and the radioactive water accumulating at the plant.

Under the original plan, TEPCO was to start removing spent fuel from the No. 1 reactor building in fiscal 2017 and begin lifting out the melted fuel as early as fiscal 2020.

Under the new schedule, spent fuel removal will start in fiscal 2019, while the melted fuel operations will begin in fiscal 2025, according to the sources.

A recruiting drove from the Asahi Shimbun:

Anti-nuclear protesters try to fire up corporate workers in Tokyo

Men and women in business attire thronged the Shinbashi district of Tokyo on Oct. 29 to encourage fellow office workers to protest against moves to restart the Sendai nuclear power plant in southern Japan.

The municipal assembly and the mayor of Satsuma-Sendai, Kagoshima Prefecture, gave the green light a day earlier to restarting the two-reactor Sendai facility operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co. It is the first plant to win such approval under new safety requirements since the nuclear disaster in Fukushima Prefecture in 2011.

Michihiko Senda, a 48-year-old company worker in Tokyo who helped organize the rally, said it was aimed at garnering like-minded white-collar workers who he believes should be thinking about the issue.

And to close, more troubles from NHK WORLD:

Completion of spent nuclear fuel plant delayed

A Japanese nuclear fuel company has decided to postpone the completion of a facility for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel to March 2016 due to ongoing rigorous government screening.

It is the 22nd time work has been delayed at the facility in the village of Rokkasho in Aomori Prefecture, northeastern Japan. The problem-prone plant has yet to go into operation after more than 20 years of construction work.

The president of Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited, Kenji Kudo, informed Aomori Prefecture Vice Governor Ikuo Sasaki of the latest decision to postpone completion on Thursday.

EbolaWatch: Politics, quarantines, Africa


But we begin with another aspect of the crisis from the World Food Program:

Ebonomics: The Price Of Keeping The Ebola Crisis From Becoming A Hunger Crisis

Program notes:

WFP’s Chief Economist Arif Husain visits West Africa to analyse how the outbreak affects the overall economy, particularly the food sector, and explains what types of assistance WFP is offering to different communities depending on their needs.

From Reuters, expectations:

Americans may still see some Ebola cases, Obama says

President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that Americans may continue to see individual cases of Ebola in the United States until the outbreak in West Africa is contained.

Obama said it was essential the United States and other countries work to stop the Ebola outbreak at its source in Africa.

Until the outbreak is stopped, he said, “we may still continue to see individual cases in America in the weeks and months ahead.”

“We can’t hermetically seal ourselves off,” he said at the White House.

From the Associated Press, impasse:

Maine in standoff with nurse over Ebola safeguards

Insisting she is perfectly healthy, nurse Kaci Hickox again defied the state’s Ebola quarantine Thursday by taking a bike ride with her boyfriend, and Maine health authorities struggled to reach a compromise that would limit her contact with others.

Hickox, 33, stepped out of her home on the remote northern edge of Maine for the second day in a row, practically daring authorities to make good on their threat to go to court to have her confined against her will. On Wednesday evening, she went outside for an impromptu news conference and shook a reporter’s outstretched hand.

By evening, it was unclear whether the state had gone to court or whether there had been any progress toward ending the standoff that has become the nation’s most closely watched clash between personal freedom and fear of Ebola. The governor’s office and Hickox’s lawyers would not comment.

More form the Los Angeles Times:

Maine fails to reach quarantine compromise with nurse Kaci Hickox

It’s the type of battle made for flinty New England, where personal liberty vs. the government’s interpretation of public good has been a frequent theme. A nurse, hailed by some as a hero for helping treat Ebola patients in Africa, has defiantly rejected the power of Maine officials seeking to quarantine her in the name of protecting the public from a virus that the healthcare worker insists she doesn’t have.

Maine health authorities so far have failed to reach a compromise with nurse Kaci Hickox that would require her to keep her distance from other people. Hickox has personified the closely watched clash between personal freedom and fear of Ebola since she arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey last Friday and found herself in quarantine.

Early Thursday, Hickox stepped out of her home in Fort Kent, at the remote northern edge of Maine, and took a bicycle ride with her boyfriend. It was the second time in as many days that Hickox had flouted the state’s rules that she stay away from the public until Nov. 10, the end of the 21-day incubation period for the Ebola virus.

Complications from Reuters:

In U.S. Ebola fight, no two quarantines are quite the same

In the U.S. battle against Ebola, quarantine rules depend on your zip code.

For some it may feel like imprisonment or house arrest. For others it may be more like a staycation, albeit one with a scary and stressful edge.

If they are lucky, the quarantined may get assigned a case worker who can play the role of a personal concierge by buying groceries and running errands. Some authorities are allowing visitors, or even giving those in quarantine permission to take trips outside to walk the dog or take a jog.

A month after the first confirmed case of Ebola in the United States, state and local health authorities across the country have imposed a hodgepodge of often conflicting rules.

Politics from CNN:

State Department denies it has a secret plan to admit foreign Ebola patients

The State Department discussed plans to transport non-U.S.citizens infected with Ebola to the United States for medical treatment, but decided to shelve the proposal and insists it was never considered at senior levels.

But Congressional Republicans are seizing on an internal State Department memo outlining a possible joint State-Homeland Security department program to provide Ebola care at U.S. hospitals for non-Americans. They say the memo is evidence the Administration was working on a new plan but wasn’t being transparent about it.

The memo, obtained by CNN, is labeled “SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED – PREDECISIONAL” and drafted by State Department officials. It recommends that the two federal agencies come up with a system to admit into the United States non-citizens “as long as they are otherwise eligible for medical evacuation from the Ebola affected countries and for entry in the United States.” It outlines the steps the U.S. government would need to take to contract with a commercial aviation company that specializes in bio containment. It also mentions other non-governmental agencies the U.S. is working with to assist with medevacing health care workers out of West Africa to European countries.

More of the political from the Washington Post:

Politicians fueling Ebola fear before midterms

Program notes:

Polling shows the public is worried about an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. — and politicians on both sides of the aisle are feeding into the fear, just weeks away from the midterm elections.

Strategizing from the Associated Press:

Nations in Americas join in battle against Ebola

Countries from around the Americas have agreed to work together in their response to Ebola, adopting similar procedures in such things as the establishment of epidemiological monitoring centers and coordinating the transport of biological samples.

About 200 epidemiology experts and health officials from 24 countries, including the United States and Canada, met in Havana on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss their response to the epidemic.

A document from the meeting lays out “lines of action” that the countries say they’ll follow to combat the disease.

And a walkout from the Contra Costa Times:

National Nurses Union plans strike to demand greater protections against Ebola

Stepping up demands to protect nurses from Ebola, the national nurses’s union said Thursday that nurses coast-to-coast are planning a National Day of Action on Nov. 12 that includes strikes at 21 Kaiser Permanente facilities in Northern California.

Zenei Cortez, co-president of the California Nurses Association, which is part of National Nurses United, said Kaiser nurses plan to strike Nov. 11-12.

When it comes to Ebola, “the message that nurses have been getting around the nation is that we are expendable,” said Deborah Burger, co-president of National Nurses United and president of the California Nurses Association. “At first there was shock, then anger — and now we want action.

“They don’t have the appropriate training and protection,” she said of nurses in her organization and nationwide, urging that hospitals provide nurses with hazmat suits, proper protective equipment and training to safeguard against Ebola. “These are human beings. We’re talking about our nurses that are heroes and take care of this country.”

Genetics from the Japan Times:

Ebola symptoms may hinge on gene functions: U.S., Japanese researchers

Ebola’s symptoms may differ depending on whether certain genes in the victim are active or not, a U.S.-based research team said in a paper published in Science magazine on Thursday.

The findings from experiments on mice are likely to help understand why Ebola manifests itself differently from one case to another. They may also aid the treatment of critical patients, the researchers said.

Led by Michael Katze of the University of Washington, the research team includes Japanese scientist Atsushi Okumura and members of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

More from the London Telegraph:

Ebola outbreak: Ebola may not be a deadly disease for everyone, scientists find

  • Researchers have found that natural immunity may exist to Ebola, after discovering that some animals get over the disease quickly, without major symptoms

Ebola may not be a deadly disease for everyone, after scientists discovered that some people are likely to be naturally immune to the virus.

A study in mice showed that genetic variations govern how ill victims will get after contracting the disease.

Some completely resist the disease, while others suffer only a moderate illness. However many still succumb to bleeding, organ failure and shock.

The research was conducted in a highly secure, state-of-the-art bio lab in Montana, US.

Researchers found that all mice lost weight in the first few days after infection. However, nearly one in five of the mice not only survived, but also fully regained their lost weight within two weeks.

The Los Angeles Times covers the seriocomic:

When an Ebola joke becomes a crime

An Ohio man was arrested and jailed after he told a dealer at a Cleveland casino that he was there, ha ha, to keep his distance from his ex, who had come back from Africa with Ebola.

The charge against Emanuel Smith:  “felony inducing panic.” Smith is alleged to have broken a law that in part bans “initiating or circulating a report of an alleged or impending fire, explosion, crime or other catastrophe, knowing that such report or warning is false.”

In Ohio, if a crack about Ebola causes a panic or costs a business money, you could face criminal charges.

Smith’s ex-wife, of course, didn’t have Ebola, but after the remark was reported to management, the casino cleared out the pit where he’d been gambling, which meant lost revenue, and according to the law in Ohio, the more money is lost by the “panic,”  the more serious the felony.

Another joke gone bad from RT:

‘Ebola’ coffee cup puts plane on lockdown at Dublin Airport

An unidentified man who scribbled an Ebola warning on a cup of coffee caused quite a stir on a Dublin-bound flight. After putting the plane on lockdown for nearly an hour in the Irish capital, authorities determined that it was all a hoax.

The incident occurred on Air Lingus Flight EI 433, which had set off from Milan on Thursday. Upon arriving in Dublin, passengers were held onboard for roughly 50 minutes until paramedics were able to investigate the matter.

“Following a minor security incident on board an Aer Lingus flight from Milan to Dublin, passengers were held on board the aircraft after it landed at Dublin Airport just before 1pm today,” a spokesperson for Dublin Airport Authority told the Irish Independent.

From USA TODAY, harkening to the days of the “Dark Continent”:

Ebola fears spark claims of racism in Europe

Italian mothers in suburban Rome recently organized a petition drive to keep a 3-year-old black girl from attending kindergarten after her family traveled to Uganda — a country thousands of miles away from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

In Germany, soccer fans chanted “Ebola, Ebola” when Charles Atsina, a black player from Ghana, came onto the field to play.

Two British landlords refused to rent an apartment to a black Sierra Leone radio newscaster, Amara Bangura, who was moving to England to study. The landlords feared he might bring the deadly virus with him.

As Americans debate quarantining health workers returning from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone or banning travelers from those countries — as Australia has already done — fears of Ebola have also gripped Europe. And that fear is giving some people license to vent racist attitudes.

Entry not denied from Science:

Ebola researchers still welcome at European infectious diseases meetings

As ScienceInsider reported yesterday, the state of Louisiana has told researchers to stay away from the world’s biggest tropical medicine meeting next week if they have been in contact with Ebola patients in the past 21 days—or even if they’ve just visited Liberia, Guinea, or Sierra Leone, the three nations where the epidemic is raging. Many scientists object to the policy; the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), which organizes the event, disagrees but accepts Louisiana’s decision, says incoming president Christopher Plowe.

But Ebola is a hot topic at many special sessions and late breakers these days. Are scientists who may have been exposed to the virus still welcome at other infectious diseases meetings? Here’s a quick sample.

People returning from West Africa are definitely expected, and are welcome, at the European Scientific Conference on Applied Infectious Diseases Epidemiology, held next week in Stockholm. Sweden currently does not have travel restrictions for people coming from affected countries, says a representative for the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), which organizes the event.

From Voice of America, a map of countries placing some restrictions on trvel from the hot zone:

BLOG Ebola travel

After a ban, back in the hot zone from FrontPageAfrica:

Back to Ebola Zone – Washington Post Duo –DuCille and Bernstein Return

Just days after he was barred from a teaching workshop class at Syracuse University over fears that he may have been infected with the deadly Ebola virus following his recent assignment to Liberia, Washington Post Photographer Michel duCille is heading back to the epicenter of the outbreak. DuCille, along with health reporter Lenny Bernstein will arrive in Monrovia Friday for a second assignment stint since the outbreak in March.

Michel DuCille, a three-time Pulitzer prize winning photographer received the shock of his life recently when he was disinvited by the university over fears that he had Ebola after covering the virus outbreak in Liberia, even though he is symptom-free and has been in the United States for more than the recommended incubation period. FrontPageAfrica’s Newsroom Chief Wade Williams received similar news the same day when she too was disinvited from a previously-arranged speaking engagement at the University of Georgia.

DuCille did not hide his disgust of the University’s decision to disinvite him when he told Time: “I am disappointed in the level of journalism at Syracuse, and I am angry that they missed a great teaching opportunity. Instead, they have decided to jump in with the mass hysteria. They missed a great teaching opportunity here for the students; to show them how to report the facts and practice good journalism Instead they went the alarmist route.”

Asian readiness from Reuters:

In Guangdong, nervy Chinese ramp up Ebola watch

Chinese authorities have identified the southern province of Guangdong, home to Asia’s biggest African population, as a frontline in their efforts to prevent the deadly Ebola virus from entering mainland China.

The province bordering Hong Kong has proven susceptible to infectious diseases in the past, shouldering a large share of SARS and bird flu cases, prompting local authorities to take no chances with Ebola.

Local authorities say they have expanded testing procedures at provincial entry ports and 27 hospitals have been designated to handle possible Ebola cases. Travelers arriving from Ebola-affected nations must leave their contact details.

“The central government has asked Guangzhou to strengthen preventative measures,” Mao Qun’an, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, told Reuters. “Of course in Guangzhou, there are many people from outside China’s borders.”

And another warning from the Japan Times:

Chinese risk of Ebola outbreak ‘not rocket science’: expert

A scientist who helped to discover the Ebola virus says he is concerned that the deadly disease could spread to China, given the large numbers of Chinese workers traveling to and from Africa.

Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said Thursday it’s not “rocket science” that with many exchanges between the two regions the disease could spread.

“The concern I have is that I don’t think you can really stop people from traveling. These patients will show up in any country in the world, but China is quite vulnerable,” Piot said.

“The issue is: What is the quality, the standard of infection control? In public hospitals in China, the ones that I’ve visited, the level of infection control is very poor,” he said.

Unprepared from NHK WORLD:

Hospitals in Japan not fully prepared for Ebola

An NHK survey shows that most hospitals in Japan designated to treat Ebola patients are not fully prepared.

NHK surveyed 45 designated medical institutions across the country, and received responses from 39. Regarding preparedness to accept Ebola patients, 32 hospitals, or 82 percent, said they are not fully prepared.

As for the reason, 75 percent cited insufficient training for doctors, nurses and other health workers. 53 percent said they have not yet carried out drills for accepting Ebola patients. 38 percent cited a lack of supplies such as protective suits to prevent secondary infections of health workers.

Channel NewsAsia Singapore takes it all the way:

North Korea orders Ebola quarantine on all foreigners

Britain, which has an embassy in Pyongyang, issued a travel advisory on its government website on Thursday (Oct 30), detailing the quarantine order which was apparently issued to all foreign missions in the North Korean capital

North Korea has announced it intends to quarantine all foreigners entering the country for 21 days, no matter what their country of origin, as a measure against the spread of the Ebola virus.

Britain, which has an embassy in Pyongyang, issued a travel advisory on its government website on Thursday (Oct 30), detailing the quarantine order which was apparently issued to all foreign missions in the North Korean capital.

According to the advisory, travellers to North Korea from regions or countries that Pyongyang considers affected by the Ebola virus, will be quarantined for 21 days “in a government-appointed hotel under medical supervision”. Travellers from any other country or region will also be quarantined in hotels appointed by the organisation hosting their visit.

After the jump, on to Africa and more World Bank loans for the hot zone, Chinese military help, Nigerian helpers bankrolled, a prescription of trust, and a sad colonial heritage, and a funereal solution prescribed, on to Sierra Leone and cremations enforced, a plea for help from a Japanese volunteer, scenes from a crisis center, a plea to end air embargoes, a campaign against misinformation, and official optimism, then on to Liberia and cremation confusion, waiting in limbo, and the plight of a the multiply victimized, thence to Guinea and ravaged agriculture, Gambia next and actors enlisted for prevention, plus a warning form the World Bank. . . Continue reading

The drought abides: California still parched


It’s Thursday, so it must be time for the latest assessment of California’s extreme dryness from the U.S. Drought Monitor, which reveals yet again no relief:

BLOG Drought

EnviroWatch: GMOs, Big Ag, oil, and nukes


And lots of nuclear news there is after the jump, including problems in reactor complexes in California and Britain.

We begin with an apocalyptic warning from The Physics arXiv Blog:

Genetically Modified Organisms Risk Global Ruin, Says Black Swan Author

  • Experts have severely underestimated the risks of genetically modified food, says a group of researchers lead by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

In 2012, for example, the American Association for the Advancement of Science declared that genetically modified crops pose no greater risk than the same foods made from crops modified by conventional plant breeding techniques.

Today, Nassim Nicholas Taleb at New York University and a few pals say that this kind of thinking vastly underestimates the threat posed by genetically modified organisms. “Genetically modified organisms represent a public risk of global harm,” they say. Consequently, this risk should be treated differently from those that only have the potential for local harm. “The precautionary principle should be used to prescribe severe of limits on genetically modified organisms,” they conclude.

Taleb and co begin by making a clear distinction between risks with consequences that are local and those with consequences that have the potential to cause global ruin. When global harm is possible, an action must be avoided unless there is scientific near-certainty that it is safe. This approach is known as the precautionary principle.

Other global ag woes from the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Climate change a “threat multiplier” for farming-dependent states-analysis

Climate change and food insecurity are “threat multipliers”, and 32 countries dependent on farming face an “extreme risk” of conflict or civil unrest in the next 30 years, a global analytics firm said on Wednesday.

Food shortages and rising prices have the potential to worsen political, ethnic, class and religious tensions, the risk advisory firm Maplecroft reported in its annual “Climate Change and Environmental Risk Atlas (CCERA)”.

Analysts noted that several nations’ military leaders are ahead of their governments in focusing on such risks.

In Nigeria, for instance, the rise of the Muslim insurgency Boko Haram may be linked to population movements caused by a west African drought a decade ago, the UK-based company said.

Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Nigeria, Chad, Haiti, Ethiopia, Philippines, Central African Republic and Eritrea face the highest level of risk, the Maplecroft report said.

And controversy ensues, via Science:

A disagreement over climate-conflict link heats up

A debate among scientists over climate change and conflict has turned ugly. At issue is the question of whether the hotter temperatures and chaotic weather produced by climate change are causing higher rates of violence. A new analysis refutes earlier research that found a link, and the two lead researchers are exchanging some pointed remarks.

Last year, a team of U.S. researchers reported a robust connection between climate and violence in Science. But in a critique published online yesterday in Climatic Change, a team of mostly European researchers dismissed the connection as “inconclusive.” The Science authors are hitting back, claiming that the critics are fudging the statistics and even manipulating their figures. The new analysis “is entirely based on surprisingly bold misrepresentations of our article, the literature, basic statistics, and their own findings,” says Solomon Hsiang, the lead author of the Science paper and an economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Numerous past studies have found a correlation between heat waves and violence, manifesting as conflicts between individuals and between groups. Demonstrating a direct connection between climate change and violence on a global scale, however, is tricky. It requires a meta-analysis of hundreds of already published studies that have slightly different techniques and measurement scales. Hsiang’s team performed just such a meta-analysis and grabbed headlines with their findings that a changing climate appeared to be amping up conflict.

Still more ag woes from Al Jazeera America:

Salt-ruined farmland costs billions of dollars every year, study finds

  • Irrigation methods that fail to employ proper drainage leads to degradation of 5,000 acres a day

Salt residue from soil irrigation degrades around 5,000 acres of farmland every day at a global annual cost of $27 billion dollars in lost arable revenues, according to a study released Tuesday.

Using cheap, short-sighted ways to water land without adequate drainage methods are the chief reason behind the land spoilage, according to the report by the UN University’s Canadian-based Institute for Water (UNU-INWEH). The total area being affected, the report notes, has shot up over the last two decades — from 111 million acres in 1991 to 160 million in 2013, representing some 20 percent of the world’s irrigated lands.

Researchers warn that big investment is necessary to reverse the trend.

The authors of the study said the most vulnerable parts of the world are arid regions in developing countries, where pressure to increase crop yields in the short term may lead governments to forgo installing or maintaining the simple, but costly, drainage systems necessary to keep salt away from the soil.

Water woes on the Subcontinent from the Hindu:

Cut water, power supply to industries polluting Ganga: SC

Observing that its “last hope” rests on the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the Supreme Court referred to it the responsibility to monitor and inspect industrial units along the Ganga and even cut off water and power connections if the units are found to be polluting the river.

A three-judge Bench led by Justice T.S. Thakur said official apathy and “failure at various levels” in both the State and the Central Pollution Control Board had led to the Ganga dying at the hands of “highly” and “grossly” polluting units, which flushed their untreated effluents into the river without any checks.

The inaction had continued even after numerous orders were passed by the Supreme Court directing the authorities to protect the river since 1980s, when a PIL was filed before the court by lawyer M.C. Mehta highlighting the alarming state of the river and its depletion owing to pollution.

Notable buzz from Al Jazeera America:

Tiny bugs could be the key to saving honeybee populations

  • Freshman student’s research on phages being touted as breakthrough against American foulbrood, a scourge of beekeepers

Tiny bacteria devouring viruses could hold the key to saving the U.S. honeybee population from a devastating disease that is destroying hives, according to research from a college freshman that is already yielding results.

American foulbrood, a bacterial infection that attacks bee larvae, has wiped out entire colonies and contributed significantly to worldwide agricultural losses. In order to prevent a larger infestation, affected hives are often burned to the ground to prevent further spread.

But a study into the use of bacteriophages — tiny viruses that infect and consume bacteria known as phages — to fight the bee disease by Bryan Merrill, a student at Brigham Young University (BYU), has raised hopes of a natural remedy to the bee blight. Merrill recently published his findings in the peer-reviewed journal BMC Genomics.

A beekeeper, Merrill is now working to identify the perfect phage for the job. So far, he has identified five phage candidates for honeybee treatment, a release from BYU said.

Hogging profiteers from MintPress News:

Density Of Industrial Hog Farms In North Carolina Prompts Civil Rights Investigation

People living near North Carolina’s large-scale hog farms have complained for decades about health and quality-of-life issues, with communities of color reportedly disproportionately affected. The EPA is now considering whether to launch a full investigation.

U.S. regulators are currently looking into whether the extraordinarily high density of industrial hog farms in eastern North Carolina is having a disproportionate negative impact on minority communities, as alleged in a new complaint.

In the coming days, the Environmental Protection Agency will make an initial decision on whether the filing satisfies basic administrative requirements. If EPA officials find that it does, the agency will then begin a full investigation into whether the North Carolina permitting process is in effect discriminating against minority communities in the state’s eastern regions.

While local frustration around this situation is longstanding, the complaint marks the first time that the issue has been appealed to the federal government on civil rights grounds.

“I was at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in the early 1990s, and people from eastern North Carolina were telling us these swine facilities were destroying their lives – that they could no longer sit on their porch and that this was a civil rights issue,” Marianne Engelman Lado, the lead attorney on the complaint, told MintPress News.

The Ecologist covers an all-too-familiar crisis:

Ghana’s farmers battle ‘Monsanto law’ to retain seed freedom

Ghana’s government is desperate to pass a Plant Breeders Bill that would remove farmers’ ancient ‘seed freedom’ to grow, retain, breed and develop crop varieties – while giving corporate breeders a blanket exemption from seed regulations. Now the farmers are fighting back.

Farmers in Ghana are on the frontlines of a battle. The national parliament has just returned from its summer break – and the first item on their legislative agenda is the government’s controversial Plant Breeders Bill.

The proposed legislation contains rules that would restrict farmers from an age-old practice: freely saving, swapping and breeding seeds they rely on for their own subsistence, and to feed the country.

Under the laws, farmers that use seed varieties claimed under new intellectual property rights by individuals and companies anywhere in the world risk hefty fines or even imprisonment.

According to the Ghanaian government and its corporate backers, the new laws would incentivise the development of new seed varieties and ensure crops are safe and saleable.

From the New York Times, and dam straight!:

Reversing Course on Beavers

Once routinely trapped and shot as varmints, their dams obliterated by dynamite and bulldozers, beavers are getting new respect these days. Across the West, they are being welcomed into the landscape as a defense against the withering effects of a warmer and drier climate.

Beaver dams, it turns out, have beneficial effects that can’t easily be replicated in other ways. They raise the water table alongside a stream, aiding the growth of trees and plants that stabilize the banks and prevent erosion. They improve fish and wildlife habitat and promote new, rich soil.

And perhaps most important in the West, beaver dams do what all dams do: hold back water that would otherwise drain away.

From CBC News, scum of the sea:

BP spill left big oily ‘bathtub ring’ on seafloor

  • BP says researchers failed to identify source of oil

The BP oil spill left an oily “bathtub ring” on the sea floor that’s about the size of U.S. State of Rhode Island or a little larger than Canada’s Manitoulin Island, new research shows.

The study by David Valentine, the chief scientist on the federal damage assessment research ships, estimates that about 37 million litres (10 million gallons) of oil coagulated on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico around the damaged Deepwater Horizons oil rig.

Valentine, a geochemistry professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, said the spill from the Macondo well left other splotches containing even more oil. He said it is obvious where the oil is from, even though there were no chemical signature tests because over time the oil has degraded.

After the jump, the Great Barrier Reef in peril — and banksters are the solution?, killer amphibians proliferate, Chinese ports polluted, another source of pollution profiteering, while the Russians stake a huge Arctic oil claim, Japanese schools in tsunami peril, and on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, including a visit by decommissioning experts,  a nuclear dump site protest, a nuclear plant in a volcanic zone wins a restart vote while another complex gets a seismic green light, fire at yet another reactor complex, major violations at Japan’s fast breeder reactor, Taiwan mulls nuke checks on Japanese food imports, plus allegations of major problems at nuke plants in California and Old Blighty. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Disease, climate, critters, nukes


We begin with a gripper from the Independent:

Humanity’s ‘inexorable’ population growth is so rapid that even a global catastrophe wouldn’t stop it

The global human population is “locked in” to an inexorable rise this century and will not be easily shifted, even by apocalyptic events such as a third world war or lethal pandemic, a study has found.

There is no “quick fix” to the population time-bomb, because there are now so many people even unimaginable global disasters won’t stop growth, scientists have concluded.

Although measures designed to reduce human fertility in the parts of the world where the population growth is fastest will eventually have a long-term impact on numbers, this has to go hand-in-hand with policies aimed at reducing the consumption of natural resources, they said.

“The inexorable demographic momentum of the global human population is rapidly eroding Earth’s life-support system,” say Professor Corey Bradshaw of the University of Adelaide and Professor Barry Brook of the University of Tasmania in their study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Side effects anticipated from BBC News:

Fears that Ebola crisis will set back malaria fight

A leading malaria control expert has said efforts to contain the disease may be jeopardised by the Ebola crisis.

Dr Fatoumata Nafo-Traoré, who heads the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership, said after visiting west Africa: “Understandably, all the health workers’ attention is on Ebola.” Children’s wards which used to be full of malaria patients were becoming “ghost areas,” she added.

In 2012, malaria killed 7,000 people in the three countries worst hit by Ebola. Most of these will have been young children – although malaria is curable. The disease caused almost 4,000 deaths in Sierra Leone in 2012 – as well as around 2,000 deaths in Liberia and approximately 1,000 in Guinea.

Now the three countries are wrestling with the Ebola virus and Dr Nafo-Traoré said she feared that recent gains in preventing malaria could be threatened by the crisis.

Another outbreak from Reuters:

Rise in MERS cases prompts Saudi warning to residents

Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry on Monday urged residents of the world’s top oil exporter to renew precautions against Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) after a rise in new cases of the disease since early September.

The Health Ministry has announced a total of 23 confirmed new cases this month of the virus, which causes coughing, fever and sometimes fatal pneumonia. In addition to the 12 cases detected in September, this brings the total number in the kingdom to 777 since it was identified in 2012, of which 331 died.

Other cases have been found elsewhere in the Middle East, in European countries, the Far East and in the United States, but many of those were found in people who had travelled in Saudi Arabia.

Neglect in the Pakistani polio outbreak from Reuters:

“Disastrous” health campaign feeds Pakistan’s worrying polio spike

Taliban militants have long been the scourge of Pakistan’s polio vaccination campaign, attacking aid workers and the police who protect them as they distribute doses to children.

But experts say there is another reason for the sharp spike in cases of the crippling disease in Pakistan this year – government mismanagement.

“Pakistan’s polio programme is a disaster. It continues to flounder hopelessly, as its virus flourishes,” the Independent Monitoring Board, which advises agencies fighting polio, will say in a report to be released this week.

The prime minister’s polio cell was disbanded during 2013 elections, the new government delayed reconstituting it, and in recent months the prime minister has been consumed with protests in the capital that have only just ended.

More from the Express Tribune in Karachi:

PM Nawaz took six months to appoint official responsible for polio

Despite an alarming rise in the number of polio cases reported in Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took six months to appoint an official responsible for the epidemic while a funding plan for the eradication was only approved last month.

Protests in the capital city in recent months have kept the PM consumed resulting in his government delaying the reconstitution of the polio cell which was disbanded during the 2013 elections.

That meant provinces did not pay workers their stipends of $2.50 a day on time, said Shahnaz Wazir Ali, a polio adviser to Sindh province.

“We had a loss of about nine to 10 months, which is a very big setback,” Ali said.

Climactic concerns from Deutsche Welle:

Climate experts meet in Copenhagen amid fresh warnings

The UN climate chief has urged world leaders not to lose hope in tackling the issue of global warming. Hundreds of researchers and government delegates are taking part in a five-day climate conference in Copenhagen.

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said at the opening session of the Copenhagen conference that policymakers should “avoid being overcome by the seeming hopelessness of addressing climate change.”

“It is not hopeless,” Pachauri said in a speech relayed on the IPCC website.

The IPCC meeting is seeking to adopt a concise report – encapsulating the three documents released over the past 13 months – on how to tackle and mitigate climate change.

The 100-page document “will provide the road map by which policymakers will hopefully find their way to a global agreement to finally reverse course on climate change,” said Pachauri.

Chinese GMO complications for Big Agra from MintPress News:

Syngenta Facing Legal Blitz Over Genetically Modified Corn

Biotech giant Syngenta’s fact sheet on a genetically modified corn urges farmers to “plant with confidence,” yet when China rejected this corn because the country hadn’t approved that particular product for its market, the entire U.S. corn industry suffered

An unusual cluster of legal filings in recent weeks has capped a tumultuous year for the Swiss biotechnology giant Syngenta Corp., and highlights ongoing concerns over the inability of the United States to keep genetically modified crops separate from conventional crops.

This month, three class action proposals were filed on behalf of farmers in Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska, with the potential to include almost anyone who grew or sold corn commercially across the country over the past year. The moves came just weeks after similar lawsuits were filed by two of the country’s largest grain exporters, Cargill and Trans Coastal Supply.

All of these legal actions revolve around genetically modified corn hybrids that Syngenta began selling in 2009. While those products have been approved for general use in the U.S., they have not been approved in China, and there is no formal indication as to whether they will be.

The problem for U.S. corn farmers and exporters is that the current commodities system in this country makes it almost impossible to compartmentalize the country’s massive corn production. Instead, corn from different farmers, fields and states is all consolidated as a single product.

Last November, Chinese authorities found traces of Syngenta’s hybrid – known as MIR162, under the brand name Agrisure Viptera – in massive shipments from the U.S. So, they rejected the entire sale, and have taken similar actions since then.

But that opposition doesn’t mean China does like GMOS, via MIT Technology Review:

China’s Growing Bets on GMOs

  • New technology and large government research initiatives in -genetically modified crops are giving China a storehouse for a more populous future.

How will China get enough to eat? More than 1.3 billion people live in the world’s most populous nation, and another 100 million will join them by 2030. China is already a net food importer, and people are eating more meat, putting further demands on land used to grow food. Meanwhile, climate change could cut yields of crucial crops—rice, wheat, and corn—by 13 percent over the next 35 years. Mindful of these trends, China’s government spends more than any other on research into genetically modified crops. It’s searching for varieties with higher yields and resistance to pests, disease, drought, and heat. The results are showing up in the nation’s hundreds of plant biotech labs.

Environmental devastation in China from Want China Times:

Over 50% of China’s coastal wetlands gone due to land reclamation

Unregulated land reclamation has caused serious coastal erosion across the intertidal zones of the Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea, threatening flocks of migratory birds and local environmental conditions, not to mention local residents’ daily lives, Shangahi’s China Business News reports.

Thus far, an total area of about 2,000sq km has been reclaimed from the Bohai Sea over the past two decades and the area is still expanding.

The coast of Bohai Bay and the northwestern Yellow Sea are critical for water birds migrating along the East Asia-Australasian flyway. Three major migratory bird sites are located in the reclaimed area.

Faced with the challenge of coping with a growing population and seeking economic development, the provinces and municipalities of the Bohai Economic Rim have sought to develop the coastal areas and reclaim land for industrial expansion, which has become an integral part of local authorities’ growth strategy, the report said.

And a violent protest in France from VICE News:

Protester Killed After Clash With Riot Police at Disputed Dam Site in France

A 21-year-old activist died Saturday night after a violent clash between police and demonstrators at the site of a controversial dam project in the Sivens Forest in southwest France. More than 2,000 environmental activists gathered in the woodlands for a rally that turned violent when militants attacked security forces.

Speaking to radio station France Info, local prosecutor Claude Derens said that the initial results of a post-mortem examination confirmed that the man died as a result of an explosion. Derens also stated that it was too early to know yet if the death was caused by a grenade blast, a hypothesis put forward by several witness statements. Investigations are still underway, and further results are expected tomorrow.

Body found near disputed dam site in France’s Sivens Forest. Read more here.

The timing of the autopsy coincides with the publication of a report commissioned by the French Ministry of Ecology that criticizes the decision by local officials to proceed with the construction of the controversial dam. Eco-activists argue that the dam, which would provide irrigation to surrounding farms, poses a huge environmental threat to the biodiverse Sivens wetland.

From ABC Australia via Journeyman Pictures, Down Under coal questions:

Catalyst: Coal Dust – How the consequences of Australia’s coal boom are choking the population of Newcastle, New South Wales

Program notes:

Australia is among the world’s largest coal producers and exporters – not something to brag about when you account for the worrying health consequences in port cities such as Newcastle. Since the mining boom in the late 1990s, respiratory diseases such as asthma have been climbing sharply, largely attributed to dust particulates given off in the extraction and transportation of coal. Mark Horstman heads to Newcastle, New South Wales, and investigates the efforts that are underway to identify harmful concentrations of coal dust particulates.

After the jump, avian slaughter in the Balkans, a seal hunting subsidy slashed, China’s flagrant disregard of oceanic fishing rules, a swan population clash in Britain, a remarkable viral resurrection, another American news medium slashes environmental coverage, an Asian partnership for the spoils of oceanic oil, asbestos in Japanese schools, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Health, climate, carbon, water


And Fukushimapocalypse Now!

First, from New Zimbabwe, health infrastructural weakness consequences:

Shortage of eye doctors hampers cataracts fight

A CRITICAL shortage of eye doctors is hampering efforts by the Ministry of Health to deal effectively with the problem of eye cataracts in Zimbabwe, according to statistics released last week.

At least 60 000 people have eye cataracts across the country.

Statistics released in the National Eye Health Strategy (NEHS) survey by the Ministry of Health shows that a lot of people are remaining untreated due to the non-availability of eye specialists in hospitals near them.

From Reuters, another country, another weakness:

Amid Afghanistan’s escalating war, a battle to beat polio

Tens of thousands of volunteers fanned out across Afghanistan this week, braving deteriorating security and distrusting parents to administer two chilled drops of the oral polio vaccine each to millions of children.

Keeping the highly infectious polio disease in check in any country is a daunting task. But in a nation where Taliban militants are fast gaining ground against government forces, it’s also a dangerous one.

Afghanistan is one of only three nations where the polio virus is still endemic, along with Pakistan and Nigeria. For a nation at war, its anti-polio campaign has had remarkable success, bringing the number of cases down from 63 in 1999 to just 14 in 2013. Only eight new cases have been confirmed so far this year, compared to 108 in Pakistan.

But as fighting between Afghan forces and militants intensifies ahead of the withdrawal of most foreign troops this year, health workers risk losing precious access to the places – and children – they need to keep tabs on.

From the Contributor, frack-tious politics:

Santa Barbara: Beautiful Enough to Frack, Says Big Oil Companies Spending Millions on Ballot Measure

There are few in the mainstream media who challenge the political establishment’s false claim that California is a “green” leader, yet here is more indisputable financial data showing how Big Oil in fact is the largest corporate lobby in the state and owns both the Democratic and Republican parties.

The battle over Yes on Measure P, the initiative to ban fracking and other extreme oil extraction techniques in Santa Barbara County, is a David vs. Goliath battle that parallels the No on Proposition 1 campaign. Big oil companies are dumping millions into the coastal county to defeat the measure, just like corporate agribusiness, billionaires and oil companies are spending millions to pass Governor Jerry Brown’s water bond.

The Yes on Measure P campaign had a war chest of about $284,000 as of October 16, 2014, largely from hundreds of individuals and county resident, according to the Santa Barbara Independent. This amount notably comes to only a small fraction of the anti-Measure P funds.

The same article reported that Measure P opponents have raised $7.6 million. “Californians for Energy Independence” has funneled over $5 million of its $7.6 million war chest to the ‘No’ side.

“The two single-biggest donors to the committee have been Chevron ($2.5 million) and Aera Energy ($2.1 million), the latter of which is rumored to be contemplating applying for 300 cyclic steam injection wells here,” according to the Independent. “Other Santa Barbara County interests that have contributed to that state group include Santa Maria Energy and Pacific Coast Energy Company, both of whose future plans could be thwarted if the initiative passes. The regional fundraising team for ‘No’ has seen additional donations from Santa Maria Energy ($88,134) and Pacific Coast Energy Company ($157,035), as well as Venoco ($80,000) and ERG Operating Company ($90,893), which recently applied for 233 cyclic steam injection wells.”

From the Los Angeles Times, business as usual:

Despite California climate law, carbon emissions may be a shell game

California’s pioneering climate-change law has a long reach, but that doesn’t mean all its mandates will help stave off global warming.

To meet the requirement that it cut carbon emissions, for example, Southern California Edison recently sold its stake in one of the West’s largest coal-fired power plants, located hundreds of miles out of state.

But the Four Corners Generating Station in New Mexico still burns coal — only the power that Edison once delivered to California now goes to a different utility’s customers in Arizona.

Similar swaps are taking place at coal plants throughout the West, and they underscore the limitations California faces as it tries to confront climate change in the absence of a coherent federal plan.

More carbon cash from the Japan Times:

U.N. climate chief urges Japan to slash emissions, and to shell out $1 billion

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, has urged Japan to set an ambitious goal of emission cuts from 2020 and contribute over $1 billion to a new fund for combating global warming.

“My expectation of Japanese contributions is the same as my expectation from every other country,” Figueres said in an interview on Saturday.

Parties to the convention are required to announce their reduction targets by the end of March. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government on Friday began discussions on the matter.

Figueres also urged Japan to play an active role in the Green Climate Fund, which will be one of the major topics at the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. framework convention (COP20), to be held in December in Peru. The fund is designed to facilitate the fight against global warming in developing countries.

From the Guardian, the complexities of nature:

Global warming has doubled risk of harsh winters in Eurasia, research finds

  • Severe winters are more likely over the next few decades due to climate change melting Arctic ice and sending freezing air south, according to new research

The risk of severe winters in Europe and northern Asia has been doubled by global warming, according to new research. The counter-intuitive finding is the result of climate change melting the Arctic ice cap and causing new wind patterns that push freezing air and snow southwards.

Severe winters over the last decade have been associated with those years in which the melting of Arctic sea ice was greatest. But the new work is the most comprehensive computer modelling study to date and indicates the frozen winters are being caused by climate change, not simply by natural variations in weather.

“The origin of frequent Eurasian severe winters is global warming,” said Prof Masato Mori, at the University of Tokyo, who led the new research. Climate change is heating the Arctic much faster than lower latitudes and the discovery that the chances of severe winters has already doubled shows that the impacts of global warming are not only a future threat. Melting Arctic ice has also been implicated in recent wet summers in the UK.

Power over nature [in both senses] via Al Jazeera America:

Dam-building boom could be electricity boon, environmental blight

  • Hydropower supply slated to double in next 10 years, helping developing world but posing risks to watersheds, climate

A dam-building boom across the developing world will bring electricity to growing, power-hungry cities across Asia, Africa and Latin America. But it can also put the world’s climate and people at risk, according to a new study by researchers aiming to reduce the host of environmental problems that can come with dam construction.

Researchers at Tübingen University in Germany have have compiled a database of the 3,700 different dam projects planned or underway worldwide. They predict that global hydropower capacity will double in the next 10 years — an increase set to reduce by 20 percent the number of free-flowing rivers left on Earth.

The building boom also poses a hazard to the rich biodiversity of major river watersheds, including those of the Mekong, Amazon and Congo, on which millions depend.

And from Agence France-Presse, water woes in a troubled nation:

Pakistan’s water supply facing an uncertain future

Program notes:

In northern Pakistan melting glaciers are raising concern that water reserves are under threat like never before with scientists warning that the country’s future food security is at stake.

Water watcher woes from the Observer:

After 42 years of charting the health of our seas, scientist’s studies now face the axe

  • Guillemot survey has provided wealth of data on climate – but funding could be cut

Tim Birkhead has been monitoring guillemots for 42 years – with intriguing results. His surveys, carried out on Skomer island in Wales, have provided key information about the wellbeing of the sea birds’ population around the British Isles and has also produced important insights into the health of our seas.

However, the zoologist’s four-decade-long project is now threatened with closure. The newly formed quango Natural Resources Wales has said it will not continue to fund the £12,000-a-year survey, as part of a cost-cutting exercise. Unless cash can be raised as a matter of urgency, this year’s survey will be the last.

The news has dismayed the 64-year-old professor of zoology at Sheffield University. “This is an incredibly short-sighted decision,” Birkhead said. “We have built an extremely important database of guillemot population parameters and breeding rates, which tells a great deal about variations in numbers of these birds, about the health of their populations and about the health of our seas in general. But that entire database is now under threat merely to save a modest amount of money.”

A lethal alien invader from the Independent:

Conservationists call for ban on ‘Tree of hell’ that threatens to damage native plants

Dubbed the “tree of heaven” for its eagerness to reach up to the sky, Ailanthus altissima has become a favourite in many UK parks and gardens.

But conservationists are now calling for the “tree of hell” – as some have renamed this import from China – to be banned because of the threat it poses to native plants.

For, despite the angelic common name, it has a distinctly sinister side. The tree emits a poison to stop other species growing nearby, has a smell like rancid cashew nuts and sends out a mass of suckers that smother other plants.

However, despite such traits, the call for the tree to be added to the Government’s official list of banned, invasive species is likely to be fought vigorously by the garden-centre industry.

A GM ploy from the Observer:

‘Silent revolution’ in biotech farming is overtaking GM, says Greenpeace

  • Pressure group accused of hypocrisy by geneticists who say the same science is behind genetic modification and Greenpeace-approved Marker Assisted Selection

The row over genetically modified crops should be a thing of the past because they have failed to live up to their promise, according to Greenpeace, which will publish a report this week highlighting the successes of biotechnology projects it claims are outstripping GM in improving food production around the world.

The environmental campaign group – which has long been against GM foods – claims that a “silent revolution” in agriculture is showing a stronger track record than the GM process, which it labels as having shown disappointing results.

“Whilst the debate between GM and non-GM has used up most of the political oxygen, this report shows it is not the only – or indeed, the best – show in town. There is a growing range of non-GM biotechnologies which show how a growing world population can be fed at a time when natural environments are increasingly stressed,” said Greenpeace chief scientist Dr Doug Parr.

And on to Fukushimapoicalypse Now!, first with yet another radiation spike from NHK WORLD:

High levels of radiation found at Fukushima plant

The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant says it has found high levels of radioactive cesium in groundwater in the compound.

Officials of Tokyo Electric Power Company say water taken on Wednesday from a monitoring well contained 460,000 becquerels of cesium per liter. Water from another well contained 424,000 becquerels.

The wells are several meters west of the No. 2 reactor building. There are about 40 around the reactor buildings.

Officials say the levels are 800 to 900 times the previous peak level of 500 becquerels per liter.

And our final item, and certain to inspire your confidence in Abe’s nuclear dreams, via NHK WORLD:

Panel likely to drop plan to check nuclear workers

A panel to Japan’s nuclear regulator will likely shelve proposals for a system of criminal record checks and other screenings of workers at nuclear facilities designed to prevent terrorism. Facility operators will likely run background checks instead.

The panel of the Nuclear Regulation Authority has been studying the logistics of checking the personal information of workers, including criminal records held by the government and financial debt.
Similar systems are in use in other countries. A system was proposed for Japan as a way of preventing terrorists and collaborators from entering nuclear facilities.

Panel members agreed that the operators of facilities, such as utilities, should run background checks on workers based on worker statements.
Some members pointed out the limitations of a system based on voluntary declarations.

EnviroWatch: Ills, climate, critters, & nukes


With begin with an enigma, via the Atlantic Monthly:

The Mysterious Polio-Like Disease Affecting American Kids

  • Doctors are stumped about the condition’s origins—and its treatment

More than 100 cases of a polio-like syndrome causing full or partial paralysis of the arms or legs have been seen in children across the United States in recent months, according to doctors attending the annual meeting of the Child Neurology Society.

Symptoms have ranged from mild weakness in a single arm to complete paralysis of arms, legs, and even the muscles controlling the lungs, leading in some cases to a need for surgery to insert a breathing tube, doctors said.

The outbreak, which appears to be larger and more widespread than what has largely been previously reported by medical and news organizations, has neurologists and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scrambling to find out what is causing these cases and how best to treat it.

“We don’t know how to treat it, and we don’t know how to prevent it,” said Keith Van Haren, a child neurologist at Stanford University School of Medicine. “It actually looks just like polio, but that term really freaks out the public-health people.”

And another outbreak spreads, via MercoPress:

France reports four cases of chikungunya locally acquired infections

On 21 October 2014, WHO was notified by the National IHR Focal Point for France of 4 cases of chikungunya locally-acquired infection in Montpellier, France. The cases were confirmed by tests conducted by the French National Reference Laboratory for arboviruses on 20 October 2014. This is the first time that locally-acquired transmission of chikungunya has been detected in France since 2010.

The 4 cases of chikungunya infection occurred within the same family, with symptoms onset between 20 September and 12 October. The cases live in Montpellier in the vicinity of a chikungunya case imported from Cameroon. The cases have no history of travel out of their district of residence in the 15 days prior to the onset of symptoms.

Big Agra, deep pockets, via the Guardian:

Pro-GM labelling campaign hugely outspent in Colorado and Oregon ballot

  • Industry giants are spending more than $25m to defeat campaigns for mandatory GM food labelling in the two states, in the runup to next month’s vote

Biotech and supermarket giants are spending more than $25m (£15.6m) to defeat ballot initiatives in two western states that would require labelling of foods containing genetically modified organisms.

In Colorado, Dupont and Monsanto food companies are outspending supporters of mandatory labelling by 22-1 ahead of the 4 November vote, according to state campaign finance records.

In Oregon, meanwhile, industry is outspending supporters of the ballot measure by about 2-1.

The heavy industry spending resembles the last-minute infusions of cash for television ads, direct mail, and campaign staff that helped defeat earlier campaigns for mandatory GM labelling in California and Washington state.

From the Los Angeles Times, the first of two California Scorched headlines:

A parched farm town is sinking, and so are its residents’ hearts

Beneath this small farm town at the end of what’s left of the Kings River, the ground is sinking.

Going into the fourth year of drought, farmers have pumped so much water that the water table below Stratford fell 100 feet in two years. Land in some spots in the Central Valley has dropped a foot a year.

In July, the town well cracked in three places. Household pipes spit black mud, then pale yellow water. After that, taps were dry for two weeks while the water district patched the steel well casing.

In September, the children of migrant farmworkers who usually come back to Stratford School a few weeks late, after the grape harvest, never came back at all. By October, there were new faces in the drought relief line in front of the school, picking up boxes of applesauce, canned tomatoes, peanut butter, rice.

And the second, via the Los Angeles Times:

For Sierra resident, the well runs dry — along with her options

Things were bad enough for Rochelle Landers before her well went dry. No job. No money for eye glasses or dentures. And now, for the last month and a half, no water.

Landers, a onetime school secretary, does not live in the parched heart of the state: the San Joaquin Valley, where some people get sand when they turn on the faucet.

She has an acre in the Sierra foothills, in a sparsely populated town an hour northeast of Sacramento with a seemingly abundant water supply despite the drought. Except for one thing: Her water comes from a well. And her well, which is shallow, has gone dry.

Last month, when her faucet stopped working, Landers thought her water pump was broken. What did she know? She’d purchased her dilapidated home 18 months earlier, moving back to California after a stint in Virginia. Four men from the drilling company slid the heavy concrete cover off her well and peered inside.

“Can you believe it?” she said. “They charged me $150 to tell me it was dry.”

Going, going, and how soon gone? From the Washington Post:

Collapse of Antarctic ice sheet is underway and unstoppable but will take centuries

The collapse of the giant West Antarctica ice sheet is underway, two groups of scientists said Monday. They described the melting as an unstoppable event that will cause global sea levels to rise higher than projected earlier.

Scientists said the rise in sea level, up to 12 feet, will take centuries to reach its peak and cannot be reversed. But they said a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions could slow the melt, while an increase could speed it slightly.

Warm, naturally occurring ocean water flowing under the glaciers is causing the melt. “We feel it is at the point that it is . . . a chain reaction that’s unstoppable,” regardless of any future cooling or warming of the global climate, said Eric Rignot, a professor of Earth science at the University of California at Irvine. He was the lead author of a NASA-funded study that was one of the two studies released Monday.

The only thing that might have stopped the ice from escaping into the ocean and filling it with more water “is a large hill or mountains,” Rignot said. But “there are no such hills that can slow down this retreat,” he added.

And on a parallel note, via the Ecologist:

Experts ‘stunned’ at how fast oceans are warming

Southern hemisphere oceans are warming at double the expected rate, a new study has found. This may explain why surface warming has slowed over the last decade – the oceans have absorbed the ‘missing’ heat.

Southern Hemisphere ocean temperatures have been rising much more quickly than previously thought, so much so that global ocean warming may have been underestimated by as much as 24 – 55%, according to a new study.

Published by the journal Nature Climate Change and carried out by researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the study sought to determine just how much we’ve underestimated long-term upper-ocean warming given the scarcity of data collected on Southern Hemisphere ocean temperature increases.

“It’s likely that due to the poor observational coverage, we just haven’t been able to say definitively what the long-term rate of Southern Hemisphere ocean warming has been”, said the study’s lead author, Dr. Paul Durack.

Likewise, via VICE News:

Here’s How San Francisco is Bracing for Sea Level Rise Estimated to Impact $48 Billion in Assets

San Francisco’s Capital Planning Committee (CPC) has adopted what is being called the most comprehensive guidelines in the nation for preparing for the impacts of sea level rise on a city’s infrastructure.

“This is the first time that I’ve seen a city really actively assessing the risks to new public investments,” Jessica Grannis of Georgetown’s Climate Center told VICE News.

The guidelines assume sea level rise of 11 inches, plus or minus 4 inches, by 2050 and as much as 66 inches by 2100.

San Francisco’s Pacific coastline, the Embarcadero, a roadway and pedestrian promenade along the city’s eastern and northern coastline, the Port of San Francisco, and the San Francisco International Airport already experience periodic flooding.

From CCTV America, a battle for the land:

Indigenous groups fight Illegal logging in Peru

Program notes:

In Peru, officials estimate that nearly 80 percent of the country’s timber exports are harvested illegally. Often this takes place on the lands of local populations where indigenous residents are not only intimidated, but sometimes killed.

Invaders digging in Down Under, via the Guardian:

Biosecurity gaps led to 36 invasive species entering Australia since 2000

  • Invasive Species Council says Australia has not heeded lessons from decision to introduce cane toad in Queensland in 1935

Large gaps in Australia’s biosecurity regime have led to 36 invasive species entering the country since 2000, with potentially ruinous consequences for the environment, documents lodged with the Senate have warned.

Creatures such as the yellow crazy ant, the red-eared slider turtle and the smooth newt have either established themselves in Australia or threaten to do so, while Mexican feathergrass and Myrtle rust pose a threat to Australia’s plant life.

The Invasive Species Council has warned that Australia has not heeded the lessons from the decision to introduce the cane toad in Queensland in 1935, a move that has proved disastrous for native mammals and snakes in northern Australia.

On the wrong track, from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Facing lawsuit, California oil train terminal to shut down

A legal victory in California this week over crude oil operations could have a spillover effect, emboldening critics of crude-by-rail shipments to press their concerns in other jurisdictions.

EarthJustice, a San Francisco-based environmental group, won its battle to halt crude oil train operations in the state as InterState Oil Co., a Sacramento fuel distributor, agreed to stop unloading train shipments of crude oil next month at the former McClellan Air Force Base.

Sacramento County’s top air quality official said his agency mistakenly skirted the state’s environmental rules by issuing a permit for the operation.

EcoWatch covers the inevitable:

Outrage Continues at Susan G. Komen’s ‘Frack for the Cure’ Pinkwashing Campaign

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and in what seems to be getting to be a regular occurrence, it’s bringing unwanted awareness to the activities of Susan G. Komen for the Cure (SGK), the behemoth of breast cancer charities, founded in 1982.

Charges of “pinkwashing”—slapping their pink-ribbon logo on hundreds of items manufactured in their signature hot pink—reached a whole new level earlier this month when a story came out that the foundation had made a deal with Houston-based oilfield services company Baker Hughes to launch a “Doing Our Bit for the Cure” campaign. The centerpiece of the campaign is painting 1,000 fracking drill bits hot pink and packing them with information about breast cancer which presumably the mostly male oilfield workers will devour eagerly. “Baker Hughes supports Susan G. Komen’s Mission to End Breast Cancer Forever,” the campaign website proclaimed.

“For the second consecutive year, Baker Hughes is donating $100,000 to support Susan G. Komen, the world’s leading breast cancer organization,” said Baker Hughes. “The year-long partnership with Komen is an extension of the company’s participation each year in the Komen Houston Race for the Cure, where Baker Hughes sponsors the Survivor Pin Celebration. This year, the company will paint and distribute a total of 1,000 pink drill bits worldwide. The pink bits serve as a reminder of the importance of supporting research, treatment, screening and education to help find the cures for this disease, which claims a life every 60 seconds.”

From RT, the perfect transition to Fukushimapocalypse Now!:

Insulated undies: Radiation-proof, sperm-friendly boxers launched

While harm from cell-phone rays has so far been lacking sufficient scientific proof, a US firm wants men to take no chances with radiation – at least when it comes to the most precious of male body parts.

Boxer shorts made with the use of thin silver textile “absorb radiation” will help “protect men’s reproductive organs and maintain fertility health,” according to their producer, Manhattan-based Belly Armor company.

It only launched its male underwear sales this week, but among the company’s earlier products are radiation-proof blankets, belly bands and tops for pregnant women and nursing mothers.

From Reuters, yeah, what could be wrong with that?:

Japan’s Suga: See no problem with trade minister holding Tepco shares

Japan’s top government spokesman said on Friday he does not see any problem with the trade minister holding shares of Tokyo Electric Power, the operator of the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that newly appointed trade minister Yoichi Miyazawa is following the appropriate procedures for holding the shares during his tenure based on rules for ministers.

Miyazawa said on Thursday that his political support group spent funds at a sado-masochism-themed bar in his home district and that he owned shares in the power company, known as Tepco.

Miyazawa said earlier on Friday that there is no change in his stance towards Tepco despite his owning shares in the firm.

Protesting with Jiji Press:

Radioactive Waste Facility Surveys Put Off Again in Miyagi

The Environment Ministry, again on Saturday, failed to begin drilling surveys in three candidate sites in Miyagi Prefecture for a final facility to store radioactive waste produced by the March 2011 nuclear accident.

As was on Friday, a survey team in the town of Kami, where one of the candidate sites is located, was blocked from entering the site by some 60 protesters.

Also in the city of Kurihara and the town of Taiwa, the ministry refrained from taking soil samples to study geographic conditions.

In the northeastern prefecture, the ministry selected government-owned land tracts in the three municipalities as candidate sites to dump waste tainted with fallout from the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s <9501> Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Reuters foreshadows:

Japan warns of increased activity at volcano near nuclear plant

Japan warned on Friday that a volcano in southern Japan located roughly 64 km (40 miles) from a nuclear plant was showing signs of increased activity that could possibly lead to a small-scale eruption and warned people to stay away from the summit.

The warning comes nearly a month after another volcano, Mt Ontake, erupted suddenly when crowded with hikers, killing 57 people in Japan’s worst volcanic disaster in nearly 90 years.

Ioyama, a mountain on the southwestern island of Kyushu, has been shaken by small tremors and other signs of rising volcanic activity recently, including a tremor lasting as long as seven minutes, an official at the Japan Meteorological Agency’s volcano division said.

For our final item, NHK WORLD hedges its bets:

Japan to ratify nuclear compensation treaty

The Japanese government decided at a cabinet meeting on Friday to seek Diet approval for a treaty to share liability with other countries in compensation for nuclear accidents.

The government will ask the Diet to approve the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage during the current session.

Five countries, including the United States, have signed the treaty. The pact will take effect once it is ratified by Japan.

The treaty obliges each signatory to set aside at least 430 million dollars in the event of a nuclear accident.

If the cost of paying compensation for an accident in Japan exceeds that reserve, the other signatories would provide an additional 65 million dollars.